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Sri Lanka 's ethnic cauldron takes dangerous turn: Tamil vs Tamil
Associated Press, Tue March 9, 2004 23:14 EST.
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP)
More than two decades of civil war in Sri Lanka - between minority Tamils and successive Sinhalese-led governments has taken a potentially explosive ethnic twist: Tamils turning against Tamils. Most of Sri Lanka - 's 3.2 million Tamils live in the northern and eastern parts of this island, off the southern tip of India. Traditionally, northern Tamils, with Jaffna as their main city, have better education, more access to jobs and a higher standard of living. Eastern Tamils, with Batticaloa as their main city, are mostly farmers with poorer education and fewer jobs.
Still, the eastern Tamils have long provided the northern leadership with cadres ready to die in the battlefield.
Muralitharan's explosive declaration that he would stop sending fighters to the north gave vent to the anger of eastern Tamils. For the first time, Tamils there burned an effigy of Prabhakaran.
``People in Batticaloa are talking, as they haven't talked in many, many years,'' a new group, The North and East Underground, said in an e-mail to journalists. ``Over these last few years, the LTT has taxed the eastern people more than anywhere else, they have killed more people here than anywhere else, and they have taken their children more than anywhere else.''
The Tamil Tigers for years have taken children from their families, against their will, to train and use them for combat.
``The landscape in the east speaks eloquently of poverty and destruction,'' said the group of the lack of infrastructure in the east. ``They have squeezed us of everything, even our tears.''
Peace talks were launched after the Norwegian-brokered cease-fire. The talks have stalled, but the peace process has exposed Prabhakaran's outfit to foreign leaders and diplomats. Perera believes the rebels will try to safeguard their image as a group fighting for Tamil rights and not one that sponsors terrorism, and that this could soften the mainstream rebel response.
Some 900,000 Tamil expatriates living in a dozen countries will be a crucial factor. Much of the LTT's money comes from their donations, Perera said. This group can pressure Prabhakaran and Muralitharan to settle their dispute by holding back their money.
``The chance is always there, the two factions going to war,'' said Paikisothy Saravanamuttu, another prominent political analyst, who is a Tamil. ``It will be very difficult for the LTT to allow Muralitharan to carry on as a separate group. Open defiance is not tolerated in the LTT.''
The Tamil ethnic group began migrating from southern India about 1,000 years ago, and comprise 18 percent of Sri Lanka - 's 19 million people. More Tamils came in the 1700s as laborers for British planters.
The Sinhalese say they are a race unique to this island and trace their origin back 2,600 years.
Tamil discontent over discrimination embedded in Sri Lankan law erupted in war in 1983. About 65,000 people were killed in fighting and terrorist attacks in the 19 years leading up to the 2002 cease-fire.